Home churches?

Thanks for the discussion on “house churches.” I agree that congregations can meet in homes but still be orthodox, have pastors, and be connected to a larger institution. Indeed, that may be a good way to go. However, I believe most house churches today are distinctly anti-institutional. This came up in the previous discussion, but what do you think of “home churches”?

This is an outgrowth of the home school movement in which individual families meet together on Sundays and have their own worship service, with the father serving as “pastor.” No one else is present except the family members.

Does THAT constitute a valid congregation, or does it violate the command in Hebrews not to forsake gathering together?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • CRB

    Makes me wonder: “Now, why didn’t Jesus, the Lord of the church, think of this?!” Good grief, the Lord knew what He was doing in establishing the office of the holy
    ministry so that people would hear the pure Word of God and receive Christ’s body and blood. If someone has a problem with that, then he/she is the problem, I think! Of course, in places where there is a clear persecution of the church, this would be an option, but certainly not in our country. At least, not yet!

  • CRB

    Makes me wonder: “Now, why didn’t Jesus, the Lord of the church, think of this?!” Good grief, the Lord knew what He was doing in establishing the office of the holy
    ministry so that people would hear the pure Word of God and receive Christ’s body and blood. If someone has a problem with that, then he/she is the problem, I think! Of course, in places where there is a clear persecution of the church, this would be an option, but certainly not in our country. At least, not yet!

  • Chris H.

    Well said CRB! However, I would add that even in places where persecution is rampant and “home churches” are the only option they still have the office of holy ministry, and they have some semblence of institution in their churches. Any church that attempts to exist without the aid of the Divinely instituted office of ministry will wither on the vine eventually.

  • Chris H.

    Well said CRB! However, I would add that even in places where persecution is rampant and “home churches” are the only option they still have the office of holy ministry, and they have some semblence of institution in their churches. Any church that attempts to exist without the aid of the Divinely instituted office of ministry will wither on the vine eventually.

  • CRB

    Chris, I agree, totally!

  • CRB

    Chris, I agree, totally!

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I think context has a lot to do with whether it is right or wrong to be a member of a house Church. In Japan or China I understand the need. But here in the United States I thin it would be a very rare exception to the rule that the house churches are actually forsaking the gathering of the saints, among other things. Their anti institutional bent is further demonstration of that. Like it or not Jesus Created a Church, we in that church should be wanting to gather together, and join together beyond the walls of our individual living rooms. This is just more campellite factionalism, and judging from what some of them say, I would consider them to be Donatists.
    In Utah here the Mormon’s have no real clergy, at least not at the ward level. on of my parishoners was talking to one at work, who was boasting in the fact that any Tom, Dick, or Hary would get up and talk at their meetings. Bless Her soul, my parishoner responded, “I wouldn’t get up on Sunday morning to go hear a person talk who knows less about the Bible as I do. I like to know my pastor has been trained, and has had time during the week to have studied before he gets up in the pulpit.” There is really great benefit to having educated clergy.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I think context has a lot to do with whether it is right or wrong to be a member of a house Church. In Japan or China I understand the need. But here in the United States I thin it would be a very rare exception to the rule that the house churches are actually forsaking the gathering of the saints, among other things. Their anti institutional bent is further demonstration of that. Like it or not Jesus Created a Church, we in that church should be wanting to gather together, and join together beyond the walls of our individual living rooms. This is just more campellite factionalism, and judging from what some of them say, I would consider them to be Donatists.
    In Utah here the Mormon’s have no real clergy, at least not at the ward level. on of my parishoners was talking to one at work, who was boasting in the fact that any Tom, Dick, or Hary would get up and talk at their meetings. Bless Her soul, my parishoner responded, “I wouldn’t get up on Sunday morning to go hear a person talk who knows less about the Bible as I do. I like to know my pastor has been trained, and has had time during the week to have studied before he gets up in the pulpit.” There is really great benefit to having educated clergy.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    We need to distinguish between home church as necessity, and home church as a philosophy. I don’t have a problem with the former. But I think Gene is asking about the latter. They would be part of what Doug Wilson called “homers” – homeschooling/home churching/work from home – in effect making it a point of conscience/doctrine that everything should be home-based. This is problematic – whereas homeschooling/working from home are valid in and of themselves, making this into an article of faith is problematic, to say the least.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    We need to distinguish between home church as necessity, and home church as a philosophy. I don’t have a problem with the former. But I think Gene is asking about the latter. They would be part of what Doug Wilson called “homers” – homeschooling/home churching/work from home – in effect making it a point of conscience/doctrine that everything should be home-based. This is problematic – whereas homeschooling/working from home are valid in and of themselves, making this into an article of faith is problematic, to say the least.

  • WebMonk

    I think there needs to be a different term for what Veith is talking about than “home church”. Home churches have been around since Christ, and continue to be in evidence all over the world.

    A “home church” being re-defined as a me-and-my-family-by-ourselves-church seems to be appropriating an already existent and active phrase that has perfectly valid meaning and practice.

    I don’t know for sure what the phrase would be, and I realize that the people who are practicing the me-and-family-only churches call themselves a “home church,” but it would be nice to have a term.

    Family church? Household church? Just-my-family church?

    Anyway, I think the intent of Veith’s question is looking more at the American family that has churches nearby but doesn’t want to be a member/attendee for some reason and so has a church only of their own family, not even inviting others to join.

    Would that sort of church be a valid church? It might not be a good church, but would it be a valid church? Is that the primary thrust of the question?

  • WebMonk

    I think there needs to be a different term for what Veith is talking about than “home church”. Home churches have been around since Christ, and continue to be in evidence all over the world.

    A “home church” being re-defined as a me-and-my-family-by-ourselves-church seems to be appropriating an already existent and active phrase that has perfectly valid meaning and practice.

    I don’t know for sure what the phrase would be, and I realize that the people who are practicing the me-and-family-only churches call themselves a “home church,” but it would be nice to have a term.

    Family church? Household church? Just-my-family church?

    Anyway, I think the intent of Veith’s question is looking more at the American family that has churches nearby but doesn’t want to be a member/attendee for some reason and so has a church only of their own family, not even inviting others to join.

    Would that sort of church be a valid church? It might not be a good church, but would it be a valid church? Is that the primary thrust of the question?

  • Bryan Lindemood

    And a well-catechized laity. God be praised, Bror!

    I might get a house church going somewhere where there isn’t a faithful Lutheran Congregation around. But personally, if I was in that situation here in the states, I would be willing to drive at least 150 miles or more to get to receive God’s gifts with a faithful Lutheran Congregation at least somewhat regularly, say at least once a month (and perhaps continue to build up the “house church” on the other Sundays. I think among these American “house church” folks there may be just a few too many lazy Americans who prefer the comforts of home and family and friend to a good hard pew and having to deal with Christians whose personalities grate on them – so little do they understand the one body of Christ and every person as being really connected to it and to each other despite our feelings contrary to that spiritual reality. Perhaps the “house church” mentality also is bolstered by a very common misconception of Biblical stewardship and vocation as members of Christ’s body. We have more resources than nearly any other Christians in any other country in the history of Western civilization and yet faithful congregations are dying because we’re all so damned self-centered.

    You don’t have to be bosom buddies to be a brother or sister to another Chrisitan in the faith. We all can help one another as we remain CONNECTED in Christ.

    And then again, house churches, in America, as I believe it was said yesterday in one form or another, may also be stern warnings to many churches which think they are Christian. Many people are sick of churches saying that they are Christian when all it really is is faithlessness or gimmickry. And faithful churches suffer the consequences of it as well.

    Well, I enjoyed rambling here – gotta get to work!

  • Bryan Lindemood

    And a well-catechized laity. God be praised, Bror!

    I might get a house church going somewhere where there isn’t a faithful Lutheran Congregation around. But personally, if I was in that situation here in the states, I would be willing to drive at least 150 miles or more to get to receive God’s gifts with a faithful Lutheran Congregation at least somewhat regularly, say at least once a month (and perhaps continue to build up the “house church” on the other Sundays. I think among these American “house church” folks there may be just a few too many lazy Americans who prefer the comforts of home and family and friend to a good hard pew and having to deal with Christians whose personalities grate on them – so little do they understand the one body of Christ and every person as being really connected to it and to each other despite our feelings contrary to that spiritual reality. Perhaps the “house church” mentality also is bolstered by a very common misconception of Biblical stewardship and vocation as members of Christ’s body. We have more resources than nearly any other Christians in any other country in the history of Western civilization and yet faithful congregations are dying because we’re all so damned self-centered.

    You don’t have to be bosom buddies to be a brother or sister to another Chrisitan in the faith. We all can help one another as we remain CONNECTED in Christ.

    And then again, house churches, in America, as I believe it was said yesterday in one form or another, may also be stern warnings to many churches which think they are Christian. Many people are sick of churches saying that they are Christian when all it really is is faithlessness or gimmickry. And faithful churches suffer the consequences of it as well.

    Well, I enjoyed rambling here – gotta get to work!

  • Don S

    We have done “home church” on rare occasions (maybe once or twice a year) when one or more of us are sick. Typically, one or more of the rest of us will also attend our regular church because of obligations we have to that body. Clearly, God structured the family as a spiritual unit, with the father as the spiritual leader, so I hesitate to say that it is absolutely wrong to opt for such a church model as your sole church. However, the Scriptures clearly anticipate a larger church hierarchy (II Timothy, Acts, etc.), involving multiple, unrelated families.

    So, it doesn’t seem to me that a home church (single family church) is forbidden by Scripture, but if a father chooses that model I would think he should be very sure that his family is called to that. He bears a very heavy responsibility for his family’s spiritual welfare if he chooses the home church option.

  • Don S

    We have done “home church” on rare occasions (maybe once or twice a year) when one or more of us are sick. Typically, one or more of the rest of us will also attend our regular church because of obligations we have to that body. Clearly, God structured the family as a spiritual unit, with the father as the spiritual leader, so I hesitate to say that it is absolutely wrong to opt for such a church model as your sole church. However, the Scriptures clearly anticipate a larger church hierarchy (II Timothy, Acts, etc.), involving multiple, unrelated families.

    So, it doesn’t seem to me that a home church (single family church) is forbidden by Scripture, but if a father chooses that model I would think he should be very sure that his family is called to that. He bears a very heavy responsibility for his family’s spiritual welfare if he chooses the home church option.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I think it woul be fun in retirement to start a couple house churches here in Utah, but with the goal of making them self-sustaining congregations that could have a sanctuary of thier own, and call a pastor, so I could move on somewhere else. They would also be part of the larger district and synodical structure. But it would be a way of cutting down on the huge cost of church planting the way we currently do it.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I think it woul be fun in retirement to start a couple house churches here in Utah, but with the goal of making them self-sustaining congregations that could have a sanctuary of thier own, and call a pastor, so I could move on somewhere else. They would also be part of the larger district and synodical structure. But it would be a way of cutting down on the huge cost of church planting the way we currently do it.

  • http://maplemountain.blogspot.com/ s.d. smith

    I agree with WebMonk, churches meeting in homes is a biblical norm and appropriate.

    I agree that the “me-and-my family church and the pastor/daddy” is an unbiblical notion that SOME homeschoolers have fallen into. Home worship? Sure. Church meeting in homes? Of course. My family forsaking assembling with the church so we can do it ourselves? No way.

    Meeting in a building other than a home is also normative. But I think we should consider with caution the idea of calling meeting places for the church “sanctuaries” and “God’s house.” The tabernacle/temple building model is not the NT church model, with believers being indwelt by the Spirit.

    I am all for church traditions, but you can meet together with the church in many places, with the Apostles doctrine, breaking of bread, and prayer.

    Why don’t we eat together as churches weekly, in our meetings, like the early church did? I’d say that is a more important question. Is it possible to even engage in the practice of a weekly meal together in our churches (people, not a place) now in the environments (buildings, “sanctuaries”) that we have made so formal and “sanctified” that food seems to be out of the question except it be tiny shot glasses of wine (or juice) and little tiny wafers? Is this a symptom of a larger problem? Where is feasting? Can we really fulfill the calls in 1 Cor. 11 and James to see to the care of the poor in our assemblies if we require ceremonial formality to such an extent that a lower-class person could likely not be given a hearty welcome among us?

    Just thinking here. I would love to be educated, particularly by my “high-church” brothers who have already taught me so much in many ways (particularly Doctor Veith).

  • http://maplemountain.blogspot.com/ s.d. smith

    I agree with WebMonk, churches meeting in homes is a biblical norm and appropriate.

    I agree that the “me-and-my family church and the pastor/daddy” is an unbiblical notion that SOME homeschoolers have fallen into. Home worship? Sure. Church meeting in homes? Of course. My family forsaking assembling with the church so we can do it ourselves? No way.

    Meeting in a building other than a home is also normative. But I think we should consider with caution the idea of calling meeting places for the church “sanctuaries” and “God’s house.” The tabernacle/temple building model is not the NT church model, with believers being indwelt by the Spirit.

    I am all for church traditions, but you can meet together with the church in many places, with the Apostles doctrine, breaking of bread, and prayer.

    Why don’t we eat together as churches weekly, in our meetings, like the early church did? I’d say that is a more important question. Is it possible to even engage in the practice of a weekly meal together in our churches (people, not a place) now in the environments (buildings, “sanctuaries”) that we have made so formal and “sanctified” that food seems to be out of the question except it be tiny shot glasses of wine (or juice) and little tiny wafers? Is this a symptom of a larger problem? Where is feasting? Can we really fulfill the calls in 1 Cor. 11 and James to see to the care of the poor in our assemblies if we require ceremonial formality to such an extent that a lower-class person could likely not be given a hearty welcome among us?

    Just thinking here. I would love to be educated, particularly by my “high-church” brothers who have already taught me so much in many ways (particularly Doctor Veith).

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    s.D Smith,
    I think this put an end to the weekly meals in Church, though I’m not sure it bans the idea of a potluck or Bbq. Cor. 11:34 (ESV)
    if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

    There is good reason to refer to the place where we receive the sacrament as a sancuary, or God’s house, etc. It does not negate the fact that believers have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. And quite frankly I think formality is a good thing when you are coming into the presence of the King of Kings. Honor and respect are due. That being said I’ve seen men of all stripes come and be welcomed, and feel comfortable, precisely because of the formality.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    s.D Smith,
    I think this put an end to the weekly meals in Church, though I’m not sure it bans the idea of a potluck or Bbq. Cor. 11:34 (ESV)
    if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

    There is good reason to refer to the place where we receive the sacrament as a sancuary, or God’s house, etc. It does not negate the fact that believers have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. And quite frankly I think formality is a good thing when you are coming into the presence of the King of Kings. Honor and respect are due. That being said I’ve seen men of all stripes come and be welcomed, and feel comfortable, precisely because of the formality.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    We talked about “house churches” yesterday. Those have a number of different people meeting in member’s houses. That’s one thing. This topic is about “home churches” in which the family worships alone. Of course one should have family devotions, but that too is different from what I’m asking about here. The family has no belonging to a church body but is completely self-contained.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    We talked about “house churches” yesterday. Those have a number of different people meeting in member’s houses. That’s one thing. This topic is about “home churches” in which the family worships alone. Of course one should have family devotions, but that too is different from what I’m asking about here. The family has no belonging to a church body but is completely self-contained.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Sorry, I guess I was a bit off topic before in my ramblings. But the home should also be somewhat of a sacred place at times, especially around family devotions, which I struggle with maintaining with consistency myself for my children. Gotta work on that. But every father in every home is called by God to be the home pastor for his family. To guide them and point them to Christ at all times and to warn them of the dangers of false gods of every kind. But part of being the home pastor, the spiritual head of the family, is also in bringing your family together with other families regularly (hey, I have an idea – how about Sunday!) around God’s Word proclaimed and the Sacraments administered according to Christ’s own institution of them. The house pastors (husbands and fathers) should be the most respected Spiritual leaders in the congregation and see to the taking care of the disadvantaged, homeless, and pastorless in their vicinity. Thank God for all the women who have been doing this job in the church while most of the men abdicate their God given responsibilities! But it is time that we call husbands and fathers back to their God-given task. It is a heavy burden which only the most brave will bear. But they will be glad when they are called to account for the faith or faithlessness of their families one day.

    And pastors of the congregations, even more so.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Sorry, I guess I was a bit off topic before in my ramblings. But the home should also be somewhat of a sacred place at times, especially around family devotions, which I struggle with maintaining with consistency myself for my children. Gotta work on that. But every father in every home is called by God to be the home pastor for his family. To guide them and point them to Christ at all times and to warn them of the dangers of false gods of every kind. But part of being the home pastor, the spiritual head of the family, is also in bringing your family together with other families regularly (hey, I have an idea – how about Sunday!) around God’s Word proclaimed and the Sacraments administered according to Christ’s own institution of them. The house pastors (husbands and fathers) should be the most respected Spiritual leaders in the congregation and see to the taking care of the disadvantaged, homeless, and pastorless in their vicinity. Thank God for all the women who have been doing this job in the church while most of the men abdicate their God given responsibilities! But it is time that we call husbands and fathers back to their God-given task. It is a heavy burden which only the most brave will bear. But they will be glad when they are called to account for the faith or faithlessness of their families one day.

    And pastors of the congregations, even more so.

  • http://www.aclutteredmind.org Kevin Sorensen

    I would think that a “home church” – a family alone type of situation – would have a difficult time of being “evanglistic” in its ministry. Is that not part of what Paul saw needing to be done in Corinth, with a proper use and demonstration of the spiritual gifts? How can an unbeliever come in and see the power of the gospel being displayed if the “church” is only a family that meets by itself?

    I realize this may be an extreme example, but I tried once, about three year ago, carrying on online dialogues with several leaders in a home church movement. I found their minds very closed to any other possibilities, their homes appeared closed (if another family wanted to participate, they would quickly train them to meet in their own home, rather than meet together) and nearly rejecting of the notion that Heb. 10.25 was being violated by them.

  • http://www.aclutteredmind.org Kevin Sorensen

    I would think that a “home church” – a family alone type of situation – would have a difficult time of being “evanglistic” in its ministry. Is that not part of what Paul saw needing to be done in Corinth, with a proper use and demonstration of the spiritual gifts? How can an unbeliever come in and see the power of the gospel being displayed if the “church” is only a family that meets by itself?

    I realize this may be an extreme example, but I tried once, about three year ago, carrying on online dialogues with several leaders in a home church movement. I found their minds very closed to any other possibilities, their homes appeared closed (if another family wanted to participate, they would quickly train them to meet in their own home, rather than meet together) and nearly rejecting of the notion that Heb. 10.25 was being violated by them.

  • http://www.brbible.org Rich Shipe

    I suspect that the issue isn’t as much one of form but rather of the heart. In my view that heart issue is an unwillingness to submit to authority. Parents aren’t perfect and neither are husbands but the call to children and wives is clear. Same goes for church authority.

  • http://www.brbible.org Rich Shipe

    I suspect that the issue isn’t as much one of form but rather of the heart. In my view that heart issue is an unwillingness to submit to authority. Parents aren’t perfect and neither are husbands but the call to children and wives is clear. Same goes for church authority.

  • Anon

    The earliest church *did* meet in homes after they were cast out of the synagogues. But that was, I think, an emergency measure, not an ideal. Church buildings were going up, and in the traditional pattern, before Christianity was legalized.

    Believers ought to meet together, including in homes, but for it to be the Divine Service, you have to have the holder of the office of the keys, and the sacraments (and the rest of the marks of the church).

    “If these shadows remain unchanged” we may well find ourselves not only without our buildings, but without the ability to meet in homes – many communities have zoned Bible studies out of existence already. In such times, the distinction between the ideal and the realities of an emergency situaiton may become painfully plain to us.

    To seek out an emergency contingency as the ideal, though; that doesn’t seem well-thought-out.

    Dr. Vieth, I had not caught the distinction. I think a home church would be wrong, unless your family was all there was, like the Swiss Family Robinson, or Lost in Space. But then again, that would be an emergency contingency.

  • Anon

    The earliest church *did* meet in homes after they were cast out of the synagogues. But that was, I think, an emergency measure, not an ideal. Church buildings were going up, and in the traditional pattern, before Christianity was legalized.

    Believers ought to meet together, including in homes, but for it to be the Divine Service, you have to have the holder of the office of the keys, and the sacraments (and the rest of the marks of the church).

    “If these shadows remain unchanged” we may well find ourselves not only without our buildings, but without the ability to meet in homes – many communities have zoned Bible studies out of existence already. In such times, the distinction between the ideal and the realities of an emergency situaiton may become painfully plain to us.

    To seek out an emergency contingency as the ideal, though; that doesn’t seem well-thought-out.

    Dr. Vieth, I had not caught the distinction. I think a home church would be wrong, unless your family was all there was, like the Swiss Family Robinson, or Lost in Space. But then again, that would be an emergency contingency.

  • WebMonk

    “But that was, I think, an emergency measure, not an ideal.”

    Not true historically. Not even close. Church buildings did go up, but meeting in homes was quite common until Constantine. Even in areas where there was not persecution, home churches were still common. Then money, state, and church were combined and home churches went bye-bye in most places.

  • WebMonk

    “But that was, I think, an emergency measure, not an ideal.”

    Not true historically. Not even close. Church buildings did go up, but meeting in homes was quite common until Constantine. Even in areas where there was not persecution, home churches were still common. Then money, state, and church were combined and home churches went bye-bye in most places.


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